How water turned from enemy to friend

The Netherlands has always had a special relationship with water. Water has determined the landscape architecture and inspired artists. This remarkable relationship is at the heart of the book Zoet&Zout that Maartje van den Heuvel, curator of photography at the Leiden University Library, wrote together with journalist Tracy Metz. This book won them the Golden Tulip award for best non-fiction book of 2012.

Public recognition

Maartje van den Heuvel is very happy with the prize. ‘It came as a complete surprise, we had no idea!’ She sees the prize, which is awarded yearly by a jury of booksellers, as a sign of public recognition. ‘The jury doesn’t just look at the quality of the book, but also at the readers’ reactions. These reactions were very positive.’

Authors Maartje van den Heuvel (on the right) and Tracy Metz receiving a cheque for €2000 and a sculpture by Jeroen Henneman ({hoto: Chris van Houts).

Authors Maartje van den Heuvel (on the right) and Tracy Metz receiving a cheque for €2000 and a sculpture by Jeroen Henneman ({hoto: Chris van Houts).

Landscape architecture

The book is divided into two parts. Tracy Metz describes how the Netherlands is dealing with climate change and the threat of a rising sea level, and how this has influenced our landscape architecture in the past and continues to do so in the present day. Van den Heuvel uses numerous examples to show how artists have for centuries been inspired by water in the Dutch landscape, and the way in which the inhabitants deal with water.

From enemy to friend

Photo: Emmy Andriesse

Photo: Emmy Andriesse

Van den Heuvel distinguishes five categories which she classifies from negative to positive: conflict, pact, gain, pleasure and myth. At first the water was wild, it devoured the land and claimed lives. But then slowly the Dutch learned to benefit from the water, and finally even to use it for recreation. Van den Heuvel illustrates this development with a painting by Willem Schellinks, which shows how the Amsterdam Diemer sea dyke was destroyed in 1651, but also with a by now classic photograph by Emmy Andriesse, taken around the mid-twentieth century, which shows a naked woman on the beach, symbolising the freedom that many people experience in the vicinity of the sea.


Zoet&Zout originally appeared as a catalogue for the exhibition of the same name showing from 14 February to 10 June in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, but the book quickly outgrew this context. The jury, who presented the prize to the authors on 16 February, praised the ideal combination of text and image, and noted that the important role of imagination, the photographs and the art raise Zoet&Zout above all other books on the same topic.

PhD defence

Van den Heuvel is currently working on an exhibition for the Zuiderzeemuseum in 2014, showing how the Dutch use of water for leisure is depicted in Dutch art. ‘It will mostly be about the way in which the Dutch make contact with nature.’ The idea is that she will also be writing a PhD dissertation on the subject. ‘Knowing myself I expect that there will in the end be yet another exhibition, as a final note.’

Title: Zoet&Zout (Sweet&Salt)
Authors: Maartje van den Heuvel & Tracy Metz
Publisher: NAI Uitgevers/Publishers
Price: €29.50
ISBN Dutch edition: 978-90-5662-847-5
ISBN English edition: 978-90-5662-848-2

(20 February 2013)

See also

In the media
Maartje van den Heuvel and Tracy Metz on ‘Zoet & Zout’, Tros News Programme, 16-02-2013

Studying in Leiden

Art  History

Arts and Culture

Last Modified: 26-02-2013